Happy marriages aren’t happy all the time. Expecting them to be is juvenile. There are eight basic emotions felt and the average person cycles through any number of them on a given day. If you subscribe to the popular golden ratio rule of positive psychology, in order to be happy you want to maintain a five-to-one ratio of positive-to-negative experiences. But even this is a matter of perspective. In marriage, as in life, emotions ebb and flow, and it’s up to both partners to learn how to ride the tides. But when you have a feeling your partner is unhappy in your marriage, what do you do?
Well, as a concerned husband, the most obvious answer is the correct one: talk to her. What’s important, however, is how you approach the situation. What you say has to dig deeper than the standard line of interrogation, which involves a little delicacy and diplomacy on your part. Asking the right questions and saying the right things. So if you want to take the pulse of your marriage — which you should do frequently anyway, right? — and talk to your wife about her true feelings in your marriage, what do you say? Here’s a guide to some things to say and questions to ask.
“Let me tell you what happened to me today…”
It sounds counterintuitive, but the best way to get your spouse talking is to start talking yourself. Make it a habit to talk about your day, the things that happened to you and the people you encountered. Then be sure to ask her about her day and give her space and time to talk about her own experiences. The more comfortable you both feel engaging in everyday conversation with each other, the easier it will be to have more meaningful discussions. “Make it feel easy to talk to you,” says Celia Schweyer, a relationship expert at Datingscout.com. “Once you get the ball rolling, you might just be surprised by the torrent of emotion that’s waiting to gush out from your partner.”
“What do you think about this?”
If your wife is unhappy, part of that might stem from her feeling as though her feelings and opinions aren’t being heard or validated. If she believes that her input is either not wanted or not important, then it will lead to feelings of detachment and disconnection. Ask for your wife’s input and opinions on things big and small and you will see the difference. “Check with her,” says Schweyer, “whether it be on your outfit or a major decision, so she knows she’s valued and needed.”
“I love how you…”
Not feeling appreciated is one of the number one complaints that most wives have when it comes to their husbands. Just letting her know that something she does makes you happy can pick up her mood and let her know that her efforts aren’t going unnoticed. “This particular phrase shows your appreciation to your wife,” Schweyer says. “and could bring back happiness in your marriage.”
“What can I do to help?”
Building on the feelings of detachment and isolation that unhappy wives can feel, they can also feel as though they’re alone in the marriage. That day-to-day jobs and child-care duties fall exclusively on them and that they are cut off from other people as a result of their responsibilities. If you’re busy with your own job, but then also carving out time for your own activities, your spouse is going to feel more and more isolated, and resentment will creep in. Let her know that she’s still a priority and that the marriage is a partnership. “Don’t stop at asking what’s wrong,” Schweyer says. “Rather, find out what you can do to help patch things up.”
“Thank you for what you do…”
If you’re trying to get to the bottom of what might be making your wife upset, try easing into the discussion with a compliment. Let her know that she’s valued and that her feelings are important. If you come at her by saying, “What’s wrong?” she’s going to be on the defensive right away. Make it clear that your there to talk about her feelings and are open to hearing what she has to say. “Starting a conversation in a positive note is always helpful in making your wife at ease,” says Schweyer. “A good argument with your wife starts by telling her that you acknowledge her.”
“I’m here for us.”
Everyone says that a marriage is 50/50, but the truth is, there are times where someone is shouldering more of the weight. The key is to make sure that your spouse knows that, when it’s time for you to carry the load, you’re ready and willing. If she’s unhappy, then letting her know that you’re here to make the partnership work will help rebuild trust and offer reassurance. “This lets her know that you’re willing to do what it takes, however long it takes, to make things work,” says Mahalli. “This reassurance can be a good place to start in trying to figure out exactly how you’re going to make that happen together.”
“Can we talk about why you’re unhappy?”
Sometimes it’s best to go straight to the heart of the issue. The emotions your wife is feeling can run much deeper, and the only way you’re going to fix it is to figure out how far down those roots go. “Make sure she knows that you’re coming from a place of empathy rather than judgment,” says Adina Mahalli, a certified mental health consultant and family care specialist. “You can’t force someone to be happy, but sometimes just knowing that your partner cares enough about your happiness can be a big step in the right direction.”